George F. Smith Jr., a career Army officer, and his wife had bought the spacious new home — with its wide hallways and doorways and its one-level living — in 2005 because it backed onto a golf course and they both loved to play golf. But after he received a diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2009, the house was adapted for wheelchair use. The Department of Veterans Affairs paid for about $40,000 in changes, including a front ramp, alterations to the master bath and a lift on the rear deck, Holly Smith says. “The adaptations . . . made all the difference to his comfort. He might have had to go into a hospital or nursing home if the modifications had not been made.”
The house was listed at $589,000 this summer. But the family hasn’t had a single offer. They’ve struggled to connect with buyers who need the special features or who value them for possible future use. The ideal buyer, Holly Smith says, would need “a home with features like these, to save the expense and the waste of having these features removed if the new owners aren’t handicapped.” Smith and her Long & Foster agent, Amanda Scott, have concentrated on finding ways to connect with such buyers.
The experience has led Smith to wonder about the market for such homes: how others have sold and how people with disabilities find the right home. Smith, a London magazine editor, said she found just one Web site dedicated to the topic: www.barrierfreehome.com, run by a paralyzed veteran in Dallas. It appears to be the only site devoted to selling adapted houses nationally, according to real estate associations, accessible housing specialists and organizations for the disabled.
Jackie Simon, a Gaithersburg real estate agent who has built a reputation for linking interested buyers with accessible housing, finds houses and clients mostly through direct-mail advertising aimed at those in the accessible-housing field; local chapters of associations of disabled people, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; and other interested groups, such as special-needs lawyers and occupational therapists. “Many times when I have the listing, I don’t have the client,” she says. “And when I have the client, I don’t have the listing.”